September 1, 2009

Retail Clinic Health Care Just As Good

According to a study released on Monday, clinics in drug stores provide care for minor ailments either equal too or better than other medical facilities at significantly lower costs.

The study surveyed data on 2,100 patients treated for middle ear infections, sore throats and urinary tract infections at retail clinics.

Dr. Ateev Mehrotra of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Rand Research Institute found that the quality of care offered at the in-store clinics were in line with doctors' offices and urgent care centers, and slightly better than at emergency departments.

According to the Convenient Care Association, there are close to 1,200 in-store clinics in the U.S., a number that has climbed steadily since the first clinic opened in 2000.  The clinics already have served over 3.5 million patients.

Patients are looking for lower-cost healthcare as prices and insurance premiums rise.  Clinic operators have been working to position themselves at fast, cheaper alternatives that can work in concert with traditional medical facilities.

President Barack Obama has put health care reform at the center of his agenda, but Congress is debating details of how to provide insurance to more Americans.

"We need to continue to examine retail medical clinics as they grow in number, but the results we have seen thus far suggest they provide high-quality care in a convenient and cost-effective fashion," said Mehrotra.

Most clinics perform immunizations and do routine exams like back-to-school sports physicals.

The study, published in the September edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, was based on data from HealthPartners enrollees that visited Minute Clinic locations in Minnesota between 2005 and 2006, and they compared their results with others who visited traditional medical facilities.

The average cost for treatment at clinics was $110, including evaluation, pharmacy, laboratory and other costs.  The average cost was $156 at an urgent care facility, $166 at a doctor's office and $570 at an emergency department.

According to the study, no evidence was found to support concepts like clinics that provide a lower quality care or over prescribe antibiotics.  However, the study did show that a smaller proportion of high-risk patients received urine cultures at retail clinics compared with other settings.

The researchers also noted that patients in their study had health insurance, while up to a third of people in the U.S. that use clinics like these do not have insurance.

The California Health Care Foundation and a career development award from the National Center for Research Resources, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, provided funding for the study.


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